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Powerlifting is a series of variables and equations. Body weight, percentages of one rep maximums, total work volume; all of these are relative to the individual, and so are the devices used to train the individual correctly. In this, the third and final, installment of the SWEDE STRENGTH=SPEED
STRENGTH series, I am going to outline the proper use of the most advanced, severe and effective, device known to man for accommodating resistance in speed training: BANDS.
As is usually the case with atypical methods of training, there is a good deal of controversy and misunderstanding surrounding the use of bands. In recent years, the idea of bands being used in powerlifting training has become more widely accepted (mostly due to the fact that Westside Barbell's Louie Simmons swears by them); however, there is still some confusion as to the best way to use them. As I said above, this is greatly dependent on the individual. The 'whens' and 'hows' in this instance must not be overlooked.
If you've been involved in the Iron Game for any length of time, you've probably heard of, or maybe even tried using bands in your training. Regardless of what you've heard or even experienced using them, I'd like you to keep an open mind to the things I have to say. After you've read this article, determine whether or not you fit the profile of someone who is going to benefit from them. If you do, TRY them the way that I recommend. Then make a truly informed decision for yourself.
From time to time in the powerlifting community, you‘ll hear someone speak negatively about the use of bands. Perhaps they "tried them for while" or found that the bands beat up their joints and caused overtraining. You may even hear some of the top guys saying that they've made it as far as they have without the use of bands, so they must not be necessary. To this I respond that "necessary" and "beneficial" are two separate conditions, and that if they would learn to use bands effectively in their training they'd likely make it even further. There is more than one way to skin a cat, but there can be only one BEST way, and people, bands are it.
Training with bands is very much like any other method of training: you have to work your way into it. You wouldn't try to bench 500 pounds on your second day lifting weights, so why would expect to be able to jump right into training hard with bands, if you've never used them before?
Every effective thing has a cost which is equal to its efficacy.
Remember that. It's a hard fact and a rule which should be applied to your training. Just like extremely heavy weight, bands can be very effective for building strength; but in the same way, and perhaps even more so than that heavy weight, bands can be very taxing to your body and it's recovery systems. They must be used with caution; but before we get too wrapped up in the dangers associated with the potential misuse of these fantastic devices, let's talk a little about how they can benefit you... and their origin.
Go back with me if you will, my discerning reader, to the year 1978. ‟Hotel California" is blasting on your new Sony Walkman, ‟The Deer Hunter" and ‟Midnight Express" are playing down at your local movie theater and recombinant DNA techniques are being used for the first time to produce human insulin. Meanwhile, high school football coach, Dick Hartzell is doing experiments of his own on young ball players with padded barbells and chairs. He is having them do a modified box squat, exploding up off of the chairs as fast as they can.
There is a problem: while most of them have great feathered haircuts and bell bottoms, his student athletes don't have much experience performing this type of explosive lift, or squats at all for that matter. They are frequently becoming injured, as a result of improper form and technical errors, but that is not the sum of the cause. There is something missing. This is the moment when Coach Hartzell has an epiphany and first comes up with the idea for his Jump Stretch Bands.
The fact that the bands would add resistance as they were stretched would keep the kids from flying off of their feet and getting hurt while accelerating up from the chair. It would allow them to train explosively under tension, without the same dangers one would face with bar weight on their back. A brilliant idea, which evolved overtime into a device with the myriad applications it has today. However, there were many miles between inception and production and even more between production and profit. In fact, it was a full two years later in 1980 that the first bands were produced and packaged to be sold and used with a wooden base, and it took 19 long years, multiple generations of financial backers and some considerable dedication on the part of Coach Hartzell to make his invention show a profit. Fast forward to 2011 and he's doing quite well, with a training facility in Youngstown, Ohio and at 70 years old he can jump into a full split. He reminds me of Jack Lalanne and it's hard to give someone a better compliment than that. Anyway, we have him to thank for the Jump Stretch Band. There are a few other bands out there, which, to be honest, do the same job, but Jump Stretch Bands are the original. Remember, it took this guy two decades of hard work and obstinate determination to generate enough interest to make them marketable.
Aside from the application for which they were invented, as I pointed out above, resistance bands are used today for a wide variety of things. Every Crossfit YouTuber on earth is using them to stretch out their hip flexors for the worldwide viewing audience; women and men alike are using them for assisted chins in gyms across the country; football players are running against them in offseason training camps; and then there is powerlifting.
Powerlifting is everything brutal and extreme and the way we powerlifters choose to use these things is no exception. We hang them from the tops of power cages and hook them on bars so we can move unimaginable poundages with the lightened method; we use them to press squat and pull against as an added means of variation for our max effort lifts; and, back to the focus of this article, we use them as an accommodating resistance device for speed training.
The first two articles of this series have made it more than clear exactly what accommodating resistance is and why a lifter would want to incorporate it into their training. Now let's take a look, as we did with chains, at the specifics of which level of lifter will want to use bands, which bands should be used and the most effective way to set them up for each lift.
Let's remember going into this that bands are not for everyone. When it comes to speed training, an even smaller portion of the total lifting populous should use them. The numbers which I am going to outline below are the hard and fast figures I stick to when deciding whether or not to use bands in someone's speed work. It seems to me that about 80% of the people I see using bands have no business touching them. Its logical that when someone see that the strongest people are using them, that they will want to do the same, but it's important to understand: if you do not fit the criteria of someone who should use bands in their speed work and you decide to use them anyway, your performance will suffer; your joints will take a beating, your ‟speed" lifts will be slow and pointless and you will not recover from your training. So two weeks down the road, when you are in agony and struggling to finish your workouts, reconsider chains.
These are the rules I have come up with:
Do not take the above lightly, these are PEARLS I am giving you. Next, on to what types of bands and how they should be used.
For the bench press, for 90% of lifters the answer is a mini band. A full length Jump Stretch mini can be doubled over each end of the bar and anchored to a band peg or with a HEAVY dumbbell. Another company makes a short mini band which also works very well. Use a dumbbell twice as heavy as the max tension of the band. If you need to use two dumbbells per side, that is fine. To figure out where the bar weight should be set, use the 40% of raw 1RM formula I gave you earlier in the series. Figure the tension into that number with the bar on your chest. That is to say: if the bands are giving you 25lbs of tension with the bar on your chest, factor that 25lbs into your 40% of 1RM bar weight. As an example if your 40% is 160lbs, subtract the 25lbs from that number, leaving you with 135lbs of bar weight.
For deadlift, again you have some options. Jump Stretch makes a deadlift platform which is pretty sweet. You can build a platform of your own or train at a gym which has one. Dumbbells can be used as anchors if you don't want to be bothered with a platform. If you go with the short bands, they can be slid over the bar and under your feet. Whatever you decide, figure your tension with the bar on the floor into your 40% of 1RM.
Finally, box squats can be performed with bands in a power rack or on a monolift. If you're like most people and don't have access to a monolift, you can anchor the bands on band pegs (if your rack has them), or with two dumbbells on each side the power rack. Choke the band around both dumbbells and up over the end of the bar. Again, dumbbells should be roughly double the band tension. If you DO have access to a monolift, you can anchor the bands to the pegs, weigh down the monolift's legs with dumbbells as heavy as the band tension and squat away. If it is a dinosaur and doesn't have band pegs, you can choke the bands around the monolift's legs and weigh them down with those same dumbbells, like the picture below. Figure the band tension on the bar when you are sitting on the box into your 40% of 1RM.
For all of these lifts, 40% of your 1RM is simply a starting point. While on speed bench that number should not increase significantly, on squat and deadlift it just might. Always remember that the most important thing when doing speed training is that the bar is moving fast. If it is not, you need to lower the tension or the bar weight or both.
After reading this series you should have a good understanding of how an athlete should train for speed strength using the big three exercises: squat, bench and deadlift. You should have a solid idea of how and when to apply chains and bands to these lifts and hopefully you will incorporate what you've learned into your own training.
The benefits from this type of training are not limited to powerlifters by any means. I work with athletes from wrestlers to hockey players to baseball to track, all of which have seen the difference speed work can make in their performance.
That about wraps it up for now. I'll be back next month with more for you.
Cory ‟Swede" Burns is a Specialist in Strength and Conditioning. As a Raw lifter Swede has broken the APA/WPA world records for bench press and deadlift in his class. This was done at his first sanctioned meet. Swede coaches and develops programming for all levels of athletes and is available for consultation online via swede-strength.com -or in person, at his Apollo, Pennsylvania training facility, Keyhole Barbell Club.
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